Waking up in Dunedin, we had some breakfast before continuing on our way south. We headed off towards the wild and woolly Catlins, aiming to get to Curio Bay by evening. The first hour of driving saw us sticking to State Highway 1 without stopping, before we reached Balclutha. Once we hit the mighty Clutha River, we began driving towards the coast.
The trip from Balclutha to Curio Bay is about an hour and a half without stops - but our intention was to take many stops along the way, and that’s what we did! The coastal and inland route south of Dunedin, where the Catlins begins, is beautifully rugged and home to all sorts of native New Zealand wildlife.
One of our first stops was Kaka Point; a small settlement which was home to the well-known New Zealand poet Hone Tuwhare. Kaka Point is a great base for sea lion and bird spotting, and staying at the campsite is one of the best ways to explore the area surrounding the famous Nugget Point.
Nugget Point, just ten minutes around the coast from Kaka Point, can be sighted by its iconic lighthouse. Here, you can see sea birds, yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, rocky shores and the century-old lighthouse itself. To see it all, there’s a walk to the lighthouse which takes under an hour, so it’s the perfect way to break up a roadtrip south.
Kaka and Nugget Points are a little off the main road, so we had to backtrack a bit to get back to the highway. About half an hour later, we reached Surat Bay, where we saw a colony of sea lions relaxing on the beach.
Near Hinahina, we ventured off the road a little to spot Jack’s Blowhole, located more than 200 metres inland from the coast. You can hear the sounds of waves rushing through the hole long before you see them as you approach it on the one hour track. This was an awesome experience, and involved walking through the scenic native bush - a welcome stretch of the legs after some time on the road!
The Catlins are known for the abundance of wonderful waterfalls and walks to see them. The Matai Falls are well worth the short walk to, and are some of the most stunning waterfalls we saw in the South Island. The gorgeous 30-minute track took us through sheltered forest thick with moss and native bush. Another recommended stop is the Cathedral Caves. This massive hole in the cliff face resonates with the roar of the sea – on top of the booming noise its sheer size is seriously impressive. The walk to reach the cave is for the most part an easy stroll down the beach, although you’ll have to wait until low tide.
After multiple stops and much admiring of the forest and coast on the South Island, we were almost at Curio Bay. Hungry after our adventuring and navigating, we stopped by the Niagara Falls Cafe for a bite. The name here is a bit of a joke - the falls themselves have to be the smallest in the world! The food was fantastic though, and we reached Curio Bay with stomachs and spirits full after a brilliant day.
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